How to market to women

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In her new book, "EVEolution," trends forecaster Faith Popcorn looks at the buying power of women and what companies must do to create profitable and lasting relationships with them. The book, written by Ms. Popcorn and Lys Marigold and due out June 14, explores eight essential truths about marketing to women. This edited excerpt focuses on the fourth truth: Market to her peripheral vision, and she will see you in a whole new light.

All day, every day, your TV screen pulses with endless in-your-face commercials.

Our car is sexier.

Our beer is better.

Our clothes are cooler.

It's all the concentrated work of traditional marketers, hired to hit throngs of viewers between the eyes. Since TV's earliest days, advertisers have sworn to appease Madison Avenue's two sacred gods -- Reach and Frequency. They long believed "If you're loud, splashy and repetitive," the masses will be seduced to buy your brands. Communications assaults like the '80s "Battle of the Burgers" and "Cola Wars" propagated such advercentric beliefs.

Even with today's more subtle strains of image advertising and the buzzwords of Visibility and Recency (short for "landing" on the spending window-of-opportunity), the game is still won by He Who Has the Most Cash behind the celeb athlete, spokesmodel or ever-so-suggestively-placed logo. Exposure trumps every tested approach in the advertising world.

This I believe: It's time to rethink that tired old wisdom. When it comes to marketing to women, Reach and Frequency are false idols, incapable of answering today's prayers. And Visibility and Recency only work if you've chosen the right way to be visible and recent to a woman.

The fact is, women don't bond with brands that market to them in an overly aggressive way. A full frontal attack just isn't the way to turn a woman on. (We particularly hate being whiffed in the face with fragrance, either from a magazine fold or on a department store floor.) Nor do women respond to the too obvious subtlety of "I've listened and made my logo smaller than our old, all-caps logo." Nor are women impressed when you've spent a gazillion dollars on an ad (thinking instead of all the social ills a sum of money like that could have helped). Clearly, these marketing approaches no longer body-snatch today's aware women.

Try as you might, you can't browbeat a woman into buying something she either doesn't want or doesn't need. In fact, you can't browbeat a woman into much of anything -- unless it's kissing your product goodbye.

Why not?

Look again at the basic differences between the sexes.

Men and women differ in the way they receive and evaluate information. Women don't just look at the center ring of the bull's-eye -- we look around it, walk around it, circle around it. Women have retractable antennae that tune into multiple channels -- scanning, hearing and seeing the world on all levels. We pick up clues, weave together threads, intuit and infer the inner meaning.

Women are able to take in information quickly from many levels, but we are not necessarily quick to make decisions. We like to weigh the various inputs before making up our minds and hearts. We are also more wary of impulsive responses.

These discrepancies are attributed to the level of two key neurotransmitters, or messengers, in the brain: dopamine, which motivates people to action, and serotonin, which discourages impulsive action. Women have less dopamine and more serotonin than men. (This may be the real explanation why women can sit and watch a movie from start to finish on TV and men scan all channels every three minutes.)

Researchers like Ross Goldstein, a California psychologist, have found that women also pay more attention to the texture of relationships, the details. "Men tend to think in a much more macro way," he says. Women see not only the forest but also the trees and the underbrush and the twigs underfoot -- the nuances and specifics that make up the whole.

What's interesting is the wealth of undeniable physical and anecdotal evidence that women and men respond to entirely different stimuli, and they also respond differently to the same stimuli. Any way you look at it, the physical and psychological differences between men and women are clear and substantial. Women pick up on and respond to things men can't and don't.

When Dan Rather shows up on the nightly news in his new camel cardigan sweater, do American men stream into department stores the next day in search of a similar sweater? No. In fact, most men are so busy listening to the news that they don't ever even notice Rather's choice of sweater.

Women do. When Diane Sawyer runs through the latest headlines, the women watching aren't just following what's going on in the world. We can be listening intently, but also noting the great collar and tighter cut of Diane's jacket. Plus whether the color is good for her eyes. Whether her haircut/color/style looks the same as before. Are those earrings diamond studs? Whether she's looking tired. Thinking about the poor family we just heard had lost their life savings. Pondering what we should feed our family. Musing, "Hmm, would that jacket look good on me?"

You might call this phenomenon: Female observation.

You might call it: A woman's roving antenna.

I call it: Peripheral Vision.

It's a surround-sound branding opportunity that drives the Fourth Truth of EVEolution: Market to Her Peripheral Vision, and She Will See You in a Whole New Light.

The Fourth Truth also demands that you look at your female customer in a whole new light. A soft, glowing light that illuminates the corners of her world. Because this is where you want your product to appear -- on the periphery, in the natural settings of her daily life. Not jumping up and down and waving a flag to capture her wholehearted attention, but showing up unexpectedly, helpfully. In her real world.

Peripheral marketing is like one of those famous Pointillist paintings by George Seurat -- remember Broadway's "Sunday in the Park With George"? If you get close to the canvas, all you see are thousands of tiny dots of color. But when you stand back, your eye creates a unified, powerful image.

Keep that image in mind. Some of the components or tactics of Peripheral marketing may seem small when looked at closely or individually. But stand back, let your sight take in the entire scene and what emerges is a whole brand picture.

Creating a Peripheral Vision for your brand requires discipline, patience and a little faith (no pun intended). Peripheral marketing isn't quantifiable, so you may feel insecure leaving the familiarity of media staples: the number tracking found in effective Reach and the instant recognition of Gross Rating Points. In this new world, you can't always say one plus one equals two. It's scary. But that shouldn't be a surprise. When I say EVEolution is an entirely new way of seeing the marketplace, I mean it.

If marketing to a woman's Peripheral Vision is somewhat frighteningly new and difficult, then how should you accomplish it? It seems to me that you need to surround your female consumer with messages. Messages that are blipped out in a variety of formats, creating a range of powerful associations. Circling her globe.

In the past, a company (the Client) radiated its energy toward its Agency, in an effort to win the Consumer. Now is the time to shift alliances. You need to put your female consumer at the epicenter of your marketing universe (rather than letting your advertising occupy that coveted space).

Consider some unusual approaches: If you can find places for your brand to pop up where she least expects it, ironically, it will make a deeper impression than if you bludgeon her with those old hammer-over-the-head ads. That's what coveted brands as diverse as Ben & Jerry's, Banana Republic, Krispy Kreme and eBay did from the very beginning. Each of these started out without tons of traditional advertising, relying instead on the power of oh-so-tantalizing word of mouth. These companies let a positive image do the talking. Ben & Jerry's with its do-goodism, ethical standards and outrageous ice cream flavors/taste. Banana Republic with its young, gung-ho biz looks. Krispy Kreme doughnuts with hordes of evangelical gorgers. And eBay, as the answer to a collector-junkie's prayers.

Always keep in mind one of the prevalent habits that women have. One that women have engrained in our very nature. Consistent behavior (some may call it compulsive). We are forever scanning and clipping, ripping, tearing articles from anything we read. An informative blurb about the best doctor, real estate agent, caterer, dog trainer, nursery school, Tex/Mex joint (who needs the Yellow Pages?). Women follow up on the mere mention of a new IPO stock or name of a massage therapist we've been given at the gym or in an online chat room. If a neighbor arranges a soap basket in a clever way, we'll make a mental note and eventually copy it for our own homes. We notice the hairbrushes being used by our hair stylist and the wiper fluid used at our gas station. All of these tiny points of contact with a brand add up to an overall impression. That's the reason to make sure your message is laser-sharp, on every point, every time. It can make the difference in whether a product will soar or ultimately stagger.

Think about any possible place your brand or logo could surface. Ask yourself if these Peripheral messages are consistent with your overall marketing message. Because the area swept in her Peripheral Vision is exactly what your female consumer is responding to every day.

But don't think for a moment that you're going to have to abandon all the familiar terrain -- Peripheral marketing creates a road map on which many of the usual marketing tactics are good detours. Licensing, co-branding, co-promotion, event marketing, cause marketing, sampling and product placement are all useful tools that help forge the greater Peripheral picture. You just have to be experimental with the non-traditional tactics as well.

Nothing has mastered the ingenuity of placing brands in subliminal, Peripheral situations better than the Internet. Today, a woman types the health problem "bladder infection" into a search engine, and "Ocean Spray Cranberry" pops up. This can be deemed helpful now, but eventually may be resented as offensively intrusive.

A perfect example of Peripheral Vision marketing is the use of ribbons as a social statement. One color for every cause. Discounting the older phenomenon of "Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree" (to bring the boys home), the first most visible, wearable one was red to stop the scourge of AIDS.

Blazoning the AIDS ribbon started big at the televised 1992 Tony Awards ceremony in New York City, when actor Jeremy Irons pinned a red ribbon on his lapel and faced millions in the viewing audience. It hit a nerve, because from that day on, the practice spread far and wide. The AIDS cause gained stature and clout, as the bright ribbon became the must-have fashion accessory for everyone from Barbara Bush to Madonna.

Although the show of support wasn't gender-specific, mainly women and gay men were leading the long-term effort to keep the disease in the forefront of awareness. It followed that a group of women slowly began to co-opt this Peripheral strategy to alert the public to another critical cause; this one, closer to their own hearts (literally). The pastel pink breast-cancer awareness ribbon, originally delivered by Avon representatives, has even made it onto postage stamps. Anyone who doubts the power of Peripheral marketing should ask themselves: Could a $100 million ad campaign have done as much for the cause of breast cancer as a little pink ribbon?

Yes, "breast cancer" is a lofty, intense, consuming cause, but what we are reminding you is: Every passionate marketer should see her or his brand as a "cause." Whether you're part of a large company with trainloads of marketing dollars or merely a small start-up that struggles to pay the receptionist, there's a lesson to be learned here for you.

Another brand built on the Peripheral premise is Starbucks. It transformed a simple cup of coffee into one of the most valuable brands in the world -- and along the way, won the hearts of coffee-drinking women everywhere (approximately 60% of Starbucks' customers are female).

Oddly enough, Howard Schultz, who acquired Starbucks in 1987, swears that he never set out to build such a rarefied, pervasive brand. "Then one day," he recalls, "I started getting calls asking me, `Can you come and tell us how you built a national brand in only five years?' It was unusual, people told me, for a brand to burst onto the national consciousness as quickly as Starbucks had. When I looked back, I realized we had fashioned a brand in a way no business-school textbook could ever have prescribed."

Schultz spent little on advertising -- not because he didn't believe in it, but because he couldn't afford it. "Instead," Schultz says, "we concentrated on creating value and customer service. . . . Our success proves you can build a national brand without 30-second sound bites. . . . It proves that the best way to build a brand is one customer at a time."

And in another unconventional move, Starbucks started line-extending well before it would have been advised in any package-goods wisdom. These line extensions created multiple Peripheral impressions for the brand. Imagine the eye-contact impact in one supermarket -- besides its coffee bags, to see a dozen containers of Espresso Swirl, Java Toffee ice cream in frozen foods, a stack of six-packs of Frappuccino in the soft-drink aisle and rows of single bottles filling the cold case. What started as a flutter of coffee-color snowflakes had turned into a blizzard. It all adds up.

What Starbucks' success also proves is the value of showing up in a female consumer's Peripheral Vision.

You may not kowtow to the theory that Starbucks offers the greatest coffee in the world. But what no one can dispute is that it offers something of select value to the woman customer -- a clean, cheerful, wonderful-smelling environment where she can relax in comfort and safety. Where she can linger with a magazine and nobody will push her to drink up and move on. Where she can catch up with old friends and meet new ones. (Not to mention, the cookies to keep kids happy when in tow.) Where the ladies' room will be well-stocked and sanitary (a real plus, by the way, for the female customer).

Starbucks' Peripheral sales include the CDs of the music she's sipping by (they actually bought their own music company); reliable appliances to make Starbucks-blend coffee and tea at home or in the office; terrific mugs for gifts; educational pamphlets on the growing and brewing of coffee and tea; and other subtle magnets that draw users over and over again.

The sunny aura of good feeling that surrounds the Starbucks stores has given wings to the branded coffee itself. Starbucks products can be bought through a mail-order catalog or online (plus you can sign up for automatic replenishment). And you can taste the brew perking in grocery stores, restaurants, airlines and hotels.

But perhaps the biggest Peripheral coup for Starbucks was its alliance with Barnes & Noble bookstores. Next biggest: Joining up with Oprah's Book Club to sell her personal selections in its Starbucks cafes. By appealing to the female customer in an entirely different and extremely attractive context -- stress-free, with books to browse through -- Starbucks has extended its reach beyond the storefront cafe.

In little more than a decade, Starbucks has blanketed this country with stores, becoming a $1.7 billion enterprise built on a fresh (Peripheral) Vision of how to sell coffee to all, but especially to its female customers.

Peripheral marketing works in mysterious ways. It's definitely the most psychologically complex form of marketing. It's about catching the corner of a woman's eye and capturing her heart and mind. It is really about finding that small window of opportunity that, when opened, can lead to a profoundly loyal customer.

But before you earn that loyalty, as with every other EVEolutionary Truth, you must get to know your customer. Ask yourself:

* Is my brand female friendly?

* Am I being too direct, too confrontational?

* When was the last time I personally contacted my female consumer and asked for her feedback?

Fascinating challenge, isn't it? It means looking at marketing with a whole new eye -- through your own Peripheral Vision.

Like all muscles, your all-encompassing eye strengthens with use. Start to record what you see, when you see it -- and learn something every day.

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